Howard `blocks' HK stateless

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The Independent Online
The Home Secretary, Michael Howard, is blocking the granting of British nationality to 5,000 "stateless" Hong Kong residents because he is insisting on treating it as an immigration issue, say campaigners.

As a Bill that would grant citizenship to a limited number of mainly Indian Hong Kong residents went for its Third Reading in the Lords last night, Ravi Gidumal of Hong Kong's Indian Resources Group said that only the Home Office's "intransigence" was holding up the legislation, despite widespread cross-party support.

The British Nationality Bill would grant British status to up to 5,000 Indian and Asian residents of Hong Kong who will effectively be stateless after 1 July as they are not eligible for Chinese citizenship.

Mr Gidumal, whose family have lived in Hong Kong for three generations, was yesterday in London to monitor the progress of the Bill. He was supported by, among others, the Conservative MP Patrick Cormack who aims to take the Bill on through the Commons.

Mr Gidumal, who runs his own import and export business, said: "Michael Howard is our biggest problem. There's no doubt in my mind that the problem is not being resolved because of the Home Office intransigence and Michael Howard's own views on the issue. He sees it as an immigration issue which is quite absurd."

Mr Gidumal said yesterday that despite his fight for British nationality he would not be emigrating to Britain.

"The majority of people won't come to this country. The problem is that we will all be foreigners, not Hong Kong people. If we are foreigners we need to come from somewhere." But Mr Gidumal said he was "cautiously optimistic: "Chris Patten [the Governor of Hong Kong] has taken a very pro-active stance on the issue in the last few weeks. I do believe that as a politician the Governor wouldn't stick his neck out unless he thought there was a very good chance we would succeed."

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